Monday, July 16, 2007

"Not smart enough for law school? Prove it."

At the LSAC Academic Assistance Training Workshop this past June, James Levy advised participants to believe in each student's ability to perform at a high level.  He makes an important point.  We cannot help our students effectively if we do not believe they can be helped. Rather, we should be the ones that say, "If you are not smart enough for law school, you will have to prove it to me."

The temptation to believe that some students simply cannot succeed in law school is great, especially when they are performing poorly; but we cannot afford to give in to the temptation.  It is imperative that we work from the assumption that each student can succeed.  Any other approach is a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat. 

Students who struggle in law school are already prone to believing they are failures; after all, their grades say so. But they should hear something very different from us.

We should be the ones who refuse to believe that their grades are a true reflection of their capacity to learn and to excel.  If we are unwilling to accept their grades as the final word, we are much more likely to keep searching for the keys to their success; and they are much more likely to keep searching with us.

I have found again and again that students who want to succeed and who are willing to diligently apply effective learning strategies will ultimately perform well, despite early failures.  It may take some time for the wheels to catch, but they will catch if the students are willing to keep at it. 

When a student says, directly or indirectly, that she is just not smart enough to be in law school, we should insist that she prove it.  We should insist that she implement the strategies we suggest and prove that despite employing them faithfully and accurately, she is still doomed to fail.

Students need no help in giving up, in letting their setbacks define them.  We should be the voice that says success is within reach and that the end of the story has yet to be written.  For many students, ours may be the only voice saying it.  (Dan Weddle)

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